E hine, ngā whāea: Teen mothering in the gaze
In Aotearoa New Zealand, teen pregnancy is associated with social disadvantage and being ‘Māori’. Research on teen motherhood typically focuses on ‘risks’ and ‘dangers’, such as lower educational attainment and welfare ‘dependency’. These images cast young Māori mothers as abnormal and deviant – as perpetually deficit. Hence, public (and public service) perceptions of these women are often negative. This study displaces the deficit lens, and explores the lived realities of fifteen young (teen) Māori mothers, and the perspectives of their whānau. The purpose of this research was to understand the life circumstances of young Māori mothers, to examine the role of the state in their lives, and to make suggestions for service improvements. It draws on data from the E Hine study (Women’s Health Research Centre, Otago University, Wellington). Young mothers participating in E Hine were interviewed three to seven times over a three-year period, with up to two whānau interviews conducted for each young woman. The data set for this thesis, comprising of fifteen young Māori mothers and their whānau, totalled eighty-four in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Data analysis was thematic, and was informed by Foucault’s concepts of the medical and disciplinary gazes, and postcolonial notions of the colonial gaze. The research suggests that public health and social services, as well as public perceptions, seek to regulate these young women according to Eurocentric conceptions of normality; and in doing so, stigmatize and disengage them, thus creating barriers to positive outcomes. Despite this, these young mothers resist disempowerment, and hope for a better future for themselves and their whānau. Their stories are a testament to the fact that being young and Māori and mothering does not equate to failure. By treating young Māori mothers with respect and empathy, support services could be improved.